The aviation press abounds with calls for diversity and impassioned pleas to supplement the so-called talent pipeline with low-time pilot hires. At best, this notion is misguided. At worst, it’s dangerous. At any point between, it’s irresponsible, arrogant, and unconscionably stupid.
The individuals promulgating these idiocies are non-aviators. They tout themselves as thought leaders and skulk about the periphery of the aviation industry as jackals and vultures hang about feeding lions—scavengers determined to take by opportunism what they cannot earn by experience or merit.
The Voice of Ignorance
Here follows an excerpt from an August 2021 AIN article:
“ … we need to rethink the long-held belief that every corporate pilot must have 3,000+ hours total time … Part 91 flight departments [should] take a cue from the airlines and develop ab initio training programs. That means … bring in a low-time pilot with little to no experience … give him or her training and mentoring to ensure they become competent, proficient captains over time.”
The antecedent fatuity speaks to a lethal amalgam of ignorance and hubris. One wonders what informed passenger would consent to board a modern, turbine aircraft engaged in flight instruction. How readily might industrialists, billionaires, and world leaders entrust their companies, fortunes, and nations—to say nothing of their lives—to flight-crews comprising fifty-percent incompetence? Confronted with the notion of populating the right seats of jet aircraft with neophyte aviators, a high-time colleague of mine turned flight department manager remarked:
“You’re in your Challenger at altitude, the weather is bad, and the PIC has a heart attack. Your zero experience SIC is now in charge.”
The Voice of Experience
The mission was routine. Reposition a factory-new BE-200 King Air from Seattle’s Boeing Field (BFI) to Port Angeles (CLM), pick up six fishermen, and return to BFI. At the time, I was a 5,000 hour ATP with 2,000 hours in King Airs and 1,500 hours in the BE-200. Company policy required two pilots on all flights. My SIC that night was a 500 hour commercial pilot whose gender compelled management to overlook hundreds of better qualified applicants for purpose of meeting burgeoning diversity requirements.
Because the BFI-CLM leg was empty, I ceded flying-pilot duties to the SIC who, by that time, had logged about twenty-hours in the BE-200. We taxied to Rwy 13R (10,000 x 200 ft.) and were instructed by the tower to taxi into position and hold. I informed the SIC that King Airs require assertive directional control at the commencement of the takeoff roll and stipulated that the brakes be held until the props hit the governors. The SIC acknowledged my instructions, advanced the power-levers, and promptly lost control of the aircraft.
Some weeks later, an almost identical incident compelled me to advise the Chief Pilot of the SIC’s shortcomings. Terrified of a discrimination lawsuit, management opted to promote the SIC to the right seat of the Lear-35–which was deemed easier to fly.
Experience Repeats Itself
The Hawker 800 flight from Seattle’s Boeing Field (BFI) to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport had been uneventful. I was a 7,700 hour ATP with a pair of type ratings and about 600 hours in various HS-125 models. My SIC was an 800 hour commercial pilot hired during the heady confluence of the dot.com boom and the quarter-shares madness—a time when qualified pilots were hard to find and harder to keep. He was conscientious, this SIC was, and eager to please. His passion for flying was commendable. His flying skills, regrettably, were not. Still, all the captains, myself included, liked him immensely. With all our hearts, we wanted him to succeed. We knew his skills were lacking. We knew his air-sense was poor. Nevertheless, we instructed and encouraged him. We forgave his mistakes. We told him—and ourselves—that it was only a matter of time before he developed into a fine aviator.
Over northwestern Illinois, along the Janesville arrival, my conscientious, eager SIC and I were anticipating an approach to ORD’s RWY 09C. The weather was sketchy. Aircraft ahead of us were alternately accepting and declining visual approaches. I made clear during the approach briefing that we’d take an ILS approach. The SIC acknowledged and we got about the business of getting the airplane safely to the ground. A few miles outside the outer-marker, we were catching intermittent glimpses of the airport. In the O’Hare tradition, approach control was pressuring us to report the runway in sight. Ignorant of the consequences of doing so in marginal VFR conditions, my conscientious, eager SIC disregarded my instructions to the contrary, keyed his PTT, and reported RWY 09C in sight.
I was furious. I considered engaging the autopilot and strangling conscientious eagerness where it sat. I refrained, however, insomuch as we were below 10,000 feet and murder is seldom sterile. Once we’d landed and secured the airplane, I politely asked the SIC to explain himself. The young man’s abject ignorance of ATC protocols and the National Airspace System were shocking. Shortly thereafter, he conscientiously left the aviation industry and—fittingly—took a job as an airport firefighter.
The preceding paragraphs recount actual events. From my own experience, I could draw another half-dozen instances in which a small number of under-qualified SICs—in a flight department numbering almost one-hundred pilots—needlessly complicated or outright endangered aircraft operations. There are ample avenues to aeronautical proficiency. The right seats of Gulfstreams, Challengers, or Hawkers are not among them.
The beginnings of any worthwhile career are demanding and inauspicious. Tradesmen apprentice, musicians rehearse, physicians intern, and prospective pilots either join the military or acquire the certificates and ratings required to patrol power-lines, tow gliders, or work as flight instructors. The progressive ideal of reward without travail has no place in aviation. Cockpit seats cannot—must not—be offered as participation trophies.
The Strong Law of Small Numbers
Proponents of hiring low-time pilots couch their arguments in facile equivocations the likes of:
“If I have 10 pilots operating Gulfstreams and Challengers, and there’s one with 5,000 hours and nine with 500 hours, they [insurance underwriters] are going to look to me like I’m an idiot … But if I have nine pilots with 5,000+ hours and one with 500 hours, they don’t even say a thing about it.”
The enormous ignorance manifest in the preceding statement derives of post-modern ideologies that reduce human beings and human experience to statistical trivialities. Touting the insignificance of a single, under-qualified pilot in a flight department is tantamount to touting the insignificance of a single, under-qualified surgeon in a hospital. Deigning majority competence sufficient dismisses entirely the welfare of those relegated to the care of the incompetent minority. Double-talk and progressive grandstanding ultimately give way to realities in which the lives of many are entrusted to the skills of two individuals—only two. One wonders if the arrogant fools espousing the lunatic practice of hiring under-qualified pilots would entrust their own lives, or the lives of their loved ones, to a half-competent flight-crew. One wonders.
To those who mistake proximity for perspicacity—SHUT UP.